• Friday, July 12, 2024
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BusinessDay

If you have flown the MD83, you shouldn’t have issues flying any other aircraft

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Last year, on one of my trips to Abuja, I flew Dana Air back to Lagos. It was one of the smoothest flights I have had the privilege to be on as a local frequent flier. While disembarking, I popped my head into the cockpit to see who flew the craft and imagine my surprise when I saw a young beautiful lady wearing a pilot’s uniform and grinning from ear to ear! I exclaimed in amazement! “Did you fly this plane?” I asked. “Yes Madam”, she answered. “I am the Co-Pilot on this flight.” Needless to say that my curiosity as a woman and also as one who is very passionate about supporting women who dare to step up and brave the trail others created but from which those of their kind shy away.

Meet Banke Olayiwola, a very brave young woman who not only allowed herself to dream but also followed up with action steps that made her dream become a reality today.

Muna –

Tell us about yourself.

Banke –

My name is Banke Olayiwola. I am a commercial airline pilot with an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) licence, and I’m type rated on the Boeing737-800, the MD 83 and the Bombardier CRJ900.

I grew up in Ibadan, Oyo State, in Western Nigeria; obtained my primary and secondary education in Ibadan and later graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Education from Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-ife. I proceeded to the UK for a Master’s of Science degree programme in International Globalization at Leicester University. I have worked in the airline industry in 3 different continents. I am currently working in the USA as a Co-pilot with Delta Connect (a subsidy of Delta Airlines).

Muna –

How did you get into aviation to become a pilot?

Banke –

My first exposure to aviation was with Etihad Airways as an Aviation health trainer while I was in the UK for my Masters degree programme. They gave me the opportunity to travel around the world and in the course of my travels; I got to sit in the cockpit several times. I asked the pilots tons and tons of questions out of a growing curiosity I couldn’t control. One of the pilots who worked in the training department with me advised me to go and take an introductory flight. I took the introductory flight and my curiosity instantly morphed into passion. The rest is history.

Muna –

Did you have any role model, male or female?

Banke –

I have had many personnel influences in my life and career but the most influential on my career as a female pilot is Rachel Jones Kerr. Rachel is a resorted tensile pilot who currently flies a B767 for mainline Delta Airlines. We met at a pilots’ convention in Miami, Florida in 2009 where she was being recognized as the 1st Captain of an all black female crew in the USA and I was also being awarded a student pilot scholarship at the same Convention. As it happened, I was sitting next to her and was naturally full of admiration for her accomplishments. We exchanged numbers and she mentored me from that day onwards as a student pilot up until I became a jetliner pilot; and she hasn’t stopped. She helped me with my baby steps as a female aviator.

Muna –

Did your friends and family support your dream?

Banke –

Yes, most of my family and friends were very supportive of my dream. Although for some of them, it wasn’t a good career for a lady. I will like to use this medium to say a big Thank You to my family and friends who believed and supported me in making my dream come true. I am as proud of them as they are of my accomplishments so far.

Muna –

Are there ways you think that being a woman has hindered you in your career?

Banke –

My journey as a female pilot is what I like to refer to  “the good, the bad and the ugly” in reverse order. The bad and ugly parts were the early part of my experience as a female pilot. I have always been a confident person. Even when I fail, I believe it is the prelude to future successes because now I know better. Unfortunately for me, my confidence was misconceived as pride by some of my male colleagues. I was perceived as cocky and unapproachable. Of course, that led to them scrutinizing and questioning my competence and ability as a pilot. I had to tone down my excitement about everything and change myself to fit in and live according to others’ standards in a male dominated industry. I quickly realized that this impacted my passion and even my will to fly.

After some self examination and a good break, and with the help of many people in my life and of God of course, I was able to come back stronger and more confident. I believe I corrected the perception without changing who I am. I met one-on-one with my manager and several of my male colleagues, not just the ones I seemingly rubbed the wrong way. I was open about my struggles and asked what I can do to ensure a better working environment with each person at every level. While I strongly believed I had this unwholesome workplace experience because I was female, I am still grateful for it nevertheless because it forced me to reignite my passion for flying and it sharpened my soft skills and work ethics.

Fortunately, I have had more good parts to my career. I started my pilot experience flying a B737-800 for one of our indigenous airlines, Arik Air. This was a big jump-start in my career as a female pilot. The other good point of my career is the privilege to fly MD83 for Dana Airlines. Flying the MD83 gave me the confidence and reassurance I was looking for as a pilot because the MD83 aircraft are referred to as “Mad Dog” planes. If you have flown the “mad dog”, you shouldn’t have issues flying any other aircraft.

The best part of my experience however is my exposure flying in the USA. Being based out of JFK airport in New York, which is one of the busiest airports in the world, has only expanded my horizon. I have learned so much in such a short period of time. I believe that all these experiences, regardless of their classification, have sharpened me, not just as a pilot but also as a woman. One day soon, by God’s grace, you will hear a flight attendant announce over the speaker – “Captain Banke Olayiwola”. My greatest goal is to be an impactful leader in the Nigerian aviation industry. There’s so much more we can do in this industry, not just for women but also for our great country.

Muna –

Earlier, you mentioned that your welcome into Aviation by your male colleagues was a difficult integration, could you tell us more about that experience?

Banke –

I was mostly received very well. However, my experience has shown me that in certain parts of the world, women in male-dominated industries constantly have to manage their superiors, colleagues and even direct reports. Having the hard and technical expertise is not quite enough. We need to acquire the soft skills and learn to adapt to different personalities and cultures in order to have a successful career. Over all though, I have to acknowledge that most men I have met are respectful and thoughtful. Some even go as far as taking me up as their direct competition which means they see me as an equal. That, to me, is very refreshing.

Muna –

If you were not a pilot, what other career path would you have chosen?

Banke –

I would have been a Sports Medical doctor. You may be wondering what it is with male dominated industries and me? I love sports; and for me, being that close to the action while helping to mend bodies and souls, is a gift.

Muna –

What do you think can be done to encourage young women to take to the skies?

Banke –

Corporate bodies, States and Federal Government should provide scholarships and organize workshops or forums to create more awareness of the opportunities available in the aviation industry. Creating opportunities for Nigerian youth, especially young women to become Pilots, aviation mechanics, flight dispatchers, and air traffic controllers, will go a long way in extending women’s roles past the service departments of the aviation operations. Most importantly, we need to make sure that we, as trailblazers and citizens fight for equal opportunities for all employees in any career category.